With Pixar and Disney perching proudly at the top of the animation heap, wings spread like omnipotent birds of prey, is there any room left for the little guy? Certainly – smaller films like Persepolis, The Illusionist and the recently Oscar-nominated Chico & Rita have conclusively proved that you don’t need big studio backing to deliver the goods, you just need imagination.
That might be harder to achieve in a production aimed at younger viewers where the emphasis is on spectacular visuals rather than creative subtlety. A Monster In Paris is a charming French animation re-dubbed in English, which is lavishly animated and designed, but falls some way short in the story department.
Set in flooded Paris in 1910, brash delivery truck driver Raoul (Adam Goldberg) and his nervous projectionist friend Emile (Jay Harrington) accidently create a giant flea while messing around with potions in a professor’s empty laboratory.
The flea stalks the rooftops of Paris, causing widespread panic before being adopted by a strong-willed singer called Lucille (Vanessa Paradis) after she hears his uncharacteristically sweet singing voice (Sean Lennon). Deciding that he’d be the perfect accompaniment to her act, she names him Francouer, disguises him in a mask, hat and white opera coat and leads him on stage where he’s an immediate success. But things threaten to unravel when the villainous police commissioner (Danny Huston) unveils a plan to capture the monster to further his own political ends.
It’s beautifully animated and drawn with some particularly great background design. Rain-swept Paris looks gorgeous – a botanical garden lit up by jagged forks of lightning, the Eiffel Tower looming out of the mist, sunlight reflecting off the Seine – and the colours are bright and lively.
The songs are catchy but fairly unremarkable – certainly nothing to rival Alan Menkin’s genius. For cinema fans, there are also some nice references to King Kong, Phantom Of The Opera and Frankenstein but these will likely go over the heads of younger viewers.
As lovely as it is to look at, the story is rather thin and the pace a little too tepid. There’s a lack of any real set piece – the monster’s creation is decidedly unremarkable, the humour is gentle and uninspiring and even the final chase scene lacks any particular zip or zing. It’s by no means bad but with competition from more frenetic productions, it’ll be easily overlooked.